Novak Djokovic suddenly pulled out. Then, just as suddenly, he was to play after all.
The world No.1 was suffering severe blisters. Then, he wasn’t.
If Djokovic thought 14 days of quarantine in an Adelaide hotel was strange, his first day out was simply bizarre.
The Serbian megastar sent shockwaves through the tennis world with a sudden withdrawal from his scheduled exhibition match at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive on Friday.
He pulled out just half an hour before showtime, his camp citing blisters on his right hand.
But after his replacement and compatriot Filip Krajinovic won the first set against Jannik Sinner 6-3, Djokovic unexpectedly appeared on court.
He showed no obvious sign of discomfort and didn’t have tape on his right hand – which earlier in the day had, untroubled, handballed and marked an Australian Rules football while he was barefoot at a park.
Djokovic won his set against Sinner 6-3.
Then he apologised.
“I am sorry that I didn’t step in on the court from the beginning,” he said.
“I had to do some treatment with my physio and wasn’t feeling my best the last couple of days.
“I wanted to play … it’s not easy. But it’s part of what we do.
“We are professional athletes, we learn over the years to play with the pain.
“It’s just a case whether that pain is bearable or not.
“Coming off from the hard training block and having ATP Cup and the Australian Open around the corner, you don’t want to risk it too much.
“But the emotion in me was so strong to come out to the court today.
“Seeing the full stands – I had to play.”
Djokovic and others among the tennis elite, including Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, quarantined in Adelaide in the lead-up to the Australian Open in Melbourne starting February 8.
The South Australian government created the exhibition event for the day of their release, Friday.
Djokovic, on release from hotel confines, said at the park earlier in the day that he was “thrilled to be out” of quarantine.
However, the 17-time grand slam winner was less thrilled at a question about Nick Kyrgios.
Earlier in January, Djokovic requested Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley ease restrictions on players quarantining in Melbourne, prompting Kyrgios to brand the Serb a “tool” on social media.
“The letter that I sent to Craig that was leaked was a private letter with suggestions … it was portrayed as demands and that is not true,” Djokovic said.
“I just suggested a few things for the guys stuck in Melbourne like equipment. But it was misconstrued.
“I understand that there is a lot of anger and suffering happening at the moment for people inside and outside of Australia because of what everyone is experiencing.
“So many people are losing their jobs and all you can do is have compassion and send them my support.”